The Train Engineer
The train engineer is the protagonist of the story, whose idealistic vision is shattered when he sees the reality behind it. Every day for twenty years, the engineer’s express train passes a cottage on the outskirts of a little town. Each time, he blows the train’s whistle, and the woman in the cottage comes out and waves at him. As the years pass, he watches her little girl grow into a woman, who joins her mother to wave at the engineer. He has never met either of the women but feels he knows all about them and their lives. In fact, the beauty of his vision of the women is so strong that he relies on it to get him through hard times—including the four fatal accidents he witnesses when people get stuck on the train tracks in front of him. He resolves to go visit the women when he retires, to tell them about the impact they have had on his life. However, when he goes to do this, it is not the idealistic trip that he had envisioned. The town is unfamiliar, and the women are hostile and suspicious, even when he explains who he is. In addition, the women look different— older and more haggard—than how they appeared from the engineer’s train cab. Still, he forges ahead, and by the time he leaves the women, he is shocked and disappointed and has lost his hope and his ability to see the good in life.

The Woman in the Cottage
The woman in the cottage waves to the train engineer every day for twenty years...

(The entire section is 403 words.)